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Monster ice storm hit Mid-Michigan 5 years ago

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Posted at 11:59 PM, Dec 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-21 23:59:24-05

LANSING, Mich. — While we could get some snow soon, it probably won't be anything like what fell from the sky five years ago this weekend.

That's when a monster ice storm slammed Mid-Michigan, leaving about 660,000 customers were left without power. Some of them didn't get it restored until well after New Year's Day.

Clean-up lasted for a month after the storm hit, with local businesses struggling with damage from the storm and being closed for days or weeks. Animal shelters were taking people's pets so they wouldn't have to stay in cold homes.

The ordeal was a disaster for the Lansing Board of Water & Light, especially for then-General Manager Peter Lark.

Many in Lansing were calling for Lark's firing after his wife posted a Facebook photo of their family vacation to New York while crews worked to restore power.

Lark was fired in January 2014 and given a $650,000 payout in May of that year.

The BWL made several changes in the wake of the storm. It tripled the number of line crews for emergencies, hired more dispatchers, tripled the number of tree trimming crews, created online outage maps and gave credits to customers depending on how many hours they went without power.

So, how do such monster storms form? Weather Authority meteorologist Brett Collar explains.

Not only did the ingredients come together just right for us to see freezing rain, but it stayed as freezing rain for a long time, which is pretty unusual.

Let's talk about how freezing rain forms.

Throughout the column of the atmosphere, temperatures vary from being above freezing to below freezing.

In the case of freezing rain, there's a large column of warm air allowing the snow to melt. At the surface, the air is below freezing, but that column is so shallow that the rain doesn't have enough time to re-freeze into a solid. Instead, the rain falls and freezes upon contact with a solid surface.

Sleet, on the other hand, has a larger column of sub-freezing temperatures at the surface, which allows the rain to refreeze into a solid.

Snow tends to fall in a column that is, for the most part, below freezing.

And, like I mentioned, it's not just that the ingredients came together just right for this event, but the freezing rain persisted for hours.

After the precipitation shut off, temperatures remained below freezing for almost a whole week.

But there won't be a repeat this weekend.

That storm was mainly rain for most of the region, but we were in the right spot. We had 12 days ahead of the storm well below freezing. The area was ready for rain to stick and the temperatures helped. It started that Saturday afternoon as sleet. Overnight and Sunday, it was rain, not drizzle, that continued. Plus, it was windy for a couple of days after that. We were below freezing for four days after, too, so it all stuck around.